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The Hans & Franz Movie That Never Was

Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photo: Alan Singer/NBC

In the late ’80s, Hans and Franz, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon’s muscle-bound cousins of Arnold Schwarzenegger, were an SNL sensation. The frequency of their appearances and placement in the show — Hans and Franz often showed up during cold opens — is incredible by today’s standards, in which big characters might appear only a few times over the course of a cast member’s entire run on the show and, increasingly, on “Weekend Update.” So, after a few years on the show, Carvey and Nealon decided it was time to take Hans and Franz to Hollywood, and they wrote a movie with the help of Robert Smigel and Conan O’Brien. The result was Hans & Franz: The Girlyman Dilemma, a road-trip comedy/show-business satire/musical starring the duo and Schwarzenegger himself. But once Schwarzenegger backed out, the project fell apart, and the movie became just something the four writers would bring up occasionally in interviews and on each other’s podcasts.

Until now! Carvey, Nealon, Schwarzenegger (voiced by Smigel), and O’Brien have reunited to read scenes from the previously lost-to-time screenplay, and you can listen to “The Lost Hans & Franz Movie” episodes on Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend when the series drops on May 17.

On Good One, Carvey, Nealon, and Smigel talk about how the characters were born, how the movie was written, and what it was like revisiting the project. Also, they do a lot of voices! Read some excerpts from the interview below, or listen to the full episode of Good One wherever you get your podcasts.

The Birth of Hans and Franz

Kevin Nealon: It was like any other sketch. You pitch it in Lorne’s office. I don’t remember specifically pitching it, but Dana and I went back to our office we were sharing and threw ideas around. We established an outline, and we were just kind of riffing on it and cracking up. We could have done it all night, right, Dana?

Dana Carvey: We would do it for hours. Smigel would come in later on and riff with us. Did it kill at first read-through?

Robert Smigel: It got on the show. It must have done well enough, and they had a lot of confidence in you guys by then to deliver it. Lorne gave it a shot, but he put it on at the very end of the show. I remember that distinctly.

DC: The gap teeth. The wigs were great. The costume was great. We did have a lot going for us, but it didn’t land that hard. But after a while, we’d say, “We want to pump,” and the audience would clap with us.

KN: Your Hans slowly became almost a little effeminate.

DC: I didn’t want to think of him as effeminate, but the taunting, and the joy of the taunting, got so extreme, and he was so sure he was outwitting some of these people.

RS: He became a dandy.

DC: [As Hans] “Yah! How can you stand it when you see our muscles and you don’t have muscles?” Sometimes I get bored and extrapolate things. I was probably showboating a bit, as I do. But Kevin and I always want to make ourselves laugh, and Kevin had his own character and a really funny rhythm to it. It was a great back-and-forth. Another thing that we probably didn’t anticipate visually is Kevin is bigger and taller than me, so it was like Batman and Robin. I started doing the cocky little guy later on because of that.

Let me ask you a question, fellas: Did we ever, for our own internal logic, decide that they literally had no muscles and they were stuffing the sweatsuits?

RS: I was wondering that, because in my mind they always had muscles, and the joke was that it was just a ridiculous costume for SNL.

DC: I thought they had muscles. That was my internal logic, but it could have gone either way.

KN: I don’t think they did.

DC: That’s amazing.

KN: I didn’t think so, because they couldn’t pick anything up. They weren’t strong, and they were hiding. It’s just like they were characters. They were hiding behind this curtain, and this was a very flimsy kind of disguise, just like their defensiveness. That’s my take on it.

Why Read the Hans & Franz Movie Now?

KN: We wanted to get the script out there. It always amazes me that it’s so hard to write a screenplay, and once you finish it, that’s only half the battle. Then you’ve gotta sell it, and then you’ve gotta get a distributor and cast it. It’s a marathon.

DC: I wonder what the numbers are of comedy movies written, with people going all out on a script, that become actual movies? 100 to 1? 200 to 1? There’s a lot of reasons to not make it, and maybe only one propelling reason to make it. We had a moment in time with the biggest star in the world who was onboard, and it was written so beautifully for Arnold. He would have been hysterical in it.

I’d like to go on “Weekend Update” now with Kevin and say something about 2023. [As Hans] “You never do recurring characters! You just sit on ‘Update’! You don’t even have a catchphrase! Listen to us! We have more than you can even count!” They’re still funny, because they’ll never let the flag touch the ground. They’re still cocky.

KN: It would have been a really funny movie. So it’s one of those things where I think none of us really let go of it in our head. We still had it in our head that we wanted to do it eventually, but Dana got too old.


KN: When I was reading it, I remember certain scenes that Robert and I had put a lot of time into. They were written in a hotel down in Santa Monica, room 1701. I remember I had just gotten a new laptop, and Robert liked to do the typing. When writers get together, there’s one person who likes to do the typing … and also has the ideas. I remember it was a brand-new computer, and he was eating a bucket of deep-fried chicken, and it’s leaving a grease mark all across the computer. I’m sitting there on the couch watching TV and thinking, This guy is killing my computer!

RS: There’s stuff you write and you read years after you’ve written it and you’re like, Oh, this isn’t as good as I thought. But not here.

KN: This is the opposite of that. I was listening to it thinking, That’s funny. I forgot about that joke.

RS: There’s very little that I was like, “Oh, well, we wouldn’t do that now.” But overwhelmingly, it was just this joyous discovery of something that we uncovered that we’d practically forgotten about.

DC: And for me it was remembering all the great visual jokes, like the bicycle built for five or six. It would have been fun to see those scenes mounted. There’s some fabulous set pieces in that.

RS: And the songs were really, really silly. It was very classic theatrical Broadway kind of stuff. In Little Austria, there was a song kind of reminiscent of Wizard of Oz: “pum-ping, pum-ping, mus-cle pumping!” like a “Whistle While You Work” Disney thing. And then Conan had my favorite song: They get to Hollywood and they’re so excited, like, “Who are we going to meet? We’ve got to meet Stallone! Here’s a movie idea!” Arnold goes, “Guys, guys, you’ve got to play it cool. There’s a way to do Hollywood. There’s a five-step plan. First, glom on to a celebrity! Second, hold on to dear life while that celebrity visits other people!” Then at one point he was going to go, like, “Play it cool!” and then his pecs were going to go “boom boom, boom boom.”

DC: The first time I met him, he said, “Say hello,” and then he made his pecs dance. Or he put his arm up and acted like he was blowing up a tire or something, and then he’d make a bigger bicep and it would just pop.

KN: It would have been great if we had him singing a song, just obviously lip-syncing, you know? Like in those old movies.

Nice Little Stories About Times Legendary Comedians Were Nice

KN: I used to work at the Improv as a bartender, and I did stand-up there. That’s how I got started. Andy Kaufman would hang out there. I loved everything he did. He was so unique and so absurd. I always wanted to talk to him, but I was afraid. One day he was standing out in front of the Improv, and he was leaning against the wall. I knew that he was into TM, Transcendental Meditation. So I went up to him and I said, “Andy, what can you tell me about TM? I’m really thinking about getting into it.” He talked for half an hour, but he really didn’t look at me; he looked at the traffic going by. I was not really even listening to him, I was just looking at the moles on his face. I was trying to connect them and thinking, Wow, I wonder which mole came up first. I just wanted to look at his face. I didn’t care about meditation!

RS: Every now and then I meet some celebrity that I have so much reverence for that I can’t wait for it to be over because I’m afraid of saying something stupid.

DC: When I read for Spinal Tap, I was very nervous and young. I was auditioning to be the drummer. I came in and it was Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean. They’re sitting there and I go, “I feel nervous because you guys are all in here and know each other, and I’m coming here like this.” As if they were the Marx brothers, they all immediately go, “All right!” and left the room. And I just sat there and waited a little bit. Then they knocked, came in, and said, “You feel better now?” But they liked me enough to put me in the film. Me and Billy Crystal played mime waiters in the film.

Meeting Steve Martin … Maybe my fourth season, I was doing Regis Philbin on SNL, and he walked up to me during the week he was hosting and expressed his admiration for what I was doing on the show and that character specifically. I think it was Mark Twain that said, “I can dine out on a good compliment for two months.”

RS: Yeah, that happened to me with Steve Martin. I wrote this “Holiday Wish” sketch for him my second year at the show when he hosted. They play it on the Christmas episodes every year. And he said, “It’s very rare that I get a monologue written for me like that.”

You guys probably all had an encounter with Don Rickles. What’s the first insult he did for you? For me it was “Hello rabbi!”, which I found out he uses on a lot of Jews. That’s what he used on Jon Stewart.

DC: He looked at me and he went, “Do an impression of a gorilla!” You start laughing! You want to be insulted more and more.

KN: Johnny Carson was another one for me. If you did The Tonight Show, that validated you as a stand-up. I remember the first time I did it, I came out there, and then I went over to do the panel. We’re coming back from a commercial and about 30 seconds later, he’s laughing. I can still see the cigarette smoke coming out of his lungs from when he took a drag during the commercial break. Thirty seconds later, he laughs, and I see this brown kind of a haze coming out.

RS: It’s Letterman’s birthday, so I’m going to mention Letterman because he had a huge role in saving the Conan O’Brien show. He had left and competed against Leno, and then he came back to be a guest on Conan’s show like five months into the show. Critics were all shitting on our show, and the network was panicking and looking for potential replacements, and Letterman came on and he met us and was so incredibly generous. He said, “This is state-of-the-art comedy,” on the air, to Conan. I’m not sure the show would have survived if he hadn’t done that, so God bless that man.

These interview excerpts have been edited and condensed.

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